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Henry VIII wearing a codpiece

A codpiece (from Middle English cod, "scrotum") is a covering flap or pouch that attaches to the front of the crotch of men's trousers and usually accentuates the genital area. It was held closed by string ties, buttons, or other methods. It was an important item of European clothing in the 15th and 16th centuries, and is still worn in the modern era in performance costumes for rock music and metal musicians and in the gay leather subculture.



Metal cod-pieces, 16c

From the ancient world there are extant depictions of the codpiece; for example, archaeological recovery at Minoan Knossos on Crete has yielded figurines, some of which are clad in codpieces.[1] Most of what is objectively known about the cut, fit, and materials of Renaissance clothing is learned from realistic portraits, clothing inventories, descriptive receipts for payments of artifacts, or tailors’ cutting guides.[2] In the 14th century, men's hose were two separate legs worn over linen drawers, leaving a man's genitals covered only by a layer of linen. As the century wore on and men's hemlines rose, the hose became longer and joined at the centre back but remained open at the centre front. The shortening of the cote or doublet resulted in under-disguised genitals, so the codpiece began life as a triangular piece of fabric covering the gap.

Portrait of Antonio Navagero (1565), oil on canvas, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, by Giovanni Battista Moroni

As time passed, codpieces became shaped and padded to emphasize rather than to conceal, reaching their peak of size and decoration in the 1540s before falling out of use by the 1590s. Armor of the 16th century followed civilian fashion, and for a time armored codpieces were a prominent addition to the best full harnesses. A few of these are on display in museums today: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has one, as does the Higgins Armory[3] in Worcester, Massachusetts; the armour[4] of Henry VIII in the Tower of London has a codpiece. In later periods, the codpiece became an object of the derision showered on outlandish fashions. Renaissance humorist Francois Rabelais jokingly refers to a book titled On the Dignity of Codpieces in the foreword to his book The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel.[5]

Through the same linguistic route, cods became a modern slang term for the male genitalia.[6]

In contemporary culture

Leather codpiece

Subcultural attire

Codpieces are worn in gay leather subcultural attire to cover and confine the genitals of a man, sometimes while wearing leather chaps.

Heavy metal fashion

The codpiece crossed over from the leather subculture to become an established part of heavy metal fashion performance costume when Rob Halford, of the band Judas Priest, began wearing clothing adopted from the gay biker and leather subculture while promoting the Hell Bent for Leather Album in 1978.[7] Ian Anderson, front man for Jethro Tull, wore a codpiece during his performances in the mid-1970s. Gene Simmons of the American Rock Band Kiss often wore black and silver costumes with codpieces.The lead singer of 1980s music group Cameo, Larry Blackmon, wore a large, bright-red codpiece in all of his performances.Shock rock performer Blackie Lawless, leader of the group WASP, wore a codpiece that features a saw blade. Heavy metal singer King Diamond has been known to wear a codpiece as part of his performance outfits.Electric Six lead singer Dick Valentine can be seen wearing a brightly flashing codpiece in the music video for the band's 2003 hit single Danger! High Voltage. Metal singer Till Lindemann of Rammstein occasionally wears codpieces on stage.

Oderus Urungus of metal band GWAR wearing a codpiece in a 2004 concert

Black metal musician and Satanist Infernus wore a codpiece as part of his attire during the Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam era of Gorgoroth. William Murderface also wears a codpiece on several occasions. Alice Cooper regularly wears bright red codpieces in concert. GWAR front man Oderus Urungus wears a codpiece called The Cuttlefish of Cthulu.

Pop music

Tom Jones wore codpieces during concerts and Larry Blackmon used to wear a red codpiece over his pants, which was his trademark. Cameo's frontman sports a codpiece in his video "Word Up."

In film, electronic media and modern literature

In Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange (and later Stanley Kubrick's movie adaptation), Alex and his gang wear codpieces. In William Tenn's novella The Masculinist Revolt (1965), the codpiece becomes the symbol for an antifeminist movement. In the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Earth is covered in radioactive dust from nuclear fallout, so male characters must wear lead codpieces to avoid becoming sterile. The films Batman Forever and Batman & Robin received much publicity over the size of the molded rubber codpieces of the Batman and Robin costumes. In Jim Henson's movie Labyrinth, the Goblin King (played by David Bowie) sports a codpiece beneath his riding breeches. In The Pirate Movie (1982), a rock music version of the Pirates of Penzance, the Pirate King wore an enormous jeweled codpiece for comedic effect.

In Babylon 5, G'Kar, played by Andreas Katsulas, sports a codpiece as part of his Ambassadorial garb. In one episode of Metalocalypse, Murdering Outside the Box bassist William Murderface purchases a diamond-encrusted codpiece. In the 1995 film Se7en, a lust-related murder involves a man being forced at gunpoint to don a codpiece with a long blade. In the video gamse Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II, Izzy Sparks' main costume features a skull-shaped codpiece. Codpiece was a supervillain who appeared in Doom Patrol #70. He was armed with a mechanical codpiece.[8] In the British sitcom Blackadder episode "The Archbishop" the eponymous anti-hero Edmund wears a "Black Russian" codpiece.

In the movie From Dusk till Dawn the character "Sex Machine" wears a black leather codpiece. In the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, an episode is called "Codpiece Topology" because the story includes a renaissaance fair. In the video game Final Fantasy IX, the main antagonist Kuja wears a metallic Codpiece. The video game No More Heroes features a boss named Destroyman whose codpiece shoots lasers. In the British comedy/sitcom Red Dwarf, Lister can often be seen wearing a codpiece masturbation device while playing virtual reality video games.

Codpieces figure prominently in the six Star Wars movies.[citation needed] Darth Vader and the Imperial Stormtroopers wear codpieces as part of their armour.

See also



  1. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2007. Knossos fieldnotes, Modern Antiquarian.
  2. ^ Grace Q. Vicary, Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Feb., 1989), Visual Art as Social Data: The Renaissance Codpiece, pp. 3-25.
  3. ^ John Grabenstein, .
  4. ^ David Edge, Arms and Armor of Medieval Knights: An Illustrated History of Weaponry in the Middle Ages.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ A Fan's Analysis of Doom Patrol supervillain Codpiece.


  • Ashelford, Jane: The Art of Dress: Clothing and Society 1500–1914, Abrams, 1996. ISBN 0810963175.
  • Ashelford, Jane. The Visual History of Costume: The Sixteenth Century. 1983 edition (ISBN 0-89676-076-6), 1994 reprint (ISBN 0-7134-6828-9).
  • Edge, David: Arms and Armor of Medieval Knights: An Illustrated History of Weaponry in the Middle Ages.
  • Hearn, Karen, ed. Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630. New York: Rizzoli, 1995. ISBN 0-8478-1940-X.

External links

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